Coffee 101: In Defense of Starbucks

Today we have our very first guest post! Several weeks ago I wrote a Let's Trade post that essentially questioned the purchasing standards of big coffee companies. After the post I received a comment from a Sarah, a starbucks barista, and several weeks and many emails later it only made sense to invite her  to share the interesting information she's been sharing with me.


I admit it:  I’m a barista at Starbucks.  Actually, I’m pretty proud to admit it.  I know that makes a lot of people cringe and I get a lot of dirty looks from fellow fair trade supporters.  Before you all start in with explanations of how fair trade is better for farmers and how big corporations are bad for people, let me make my defense.

Starbucks is not perfect.  However, since I started learning about the company’s practices, I have been really impressed with their efforts on both environmental and social fronts (enough to want to work for them).  They are always setting new goals to improve their impact on the world around them while also being profitable and providing benefits to their employees- even those working part time.  

What a lot of people don’t know about Starbucks is that they hold themselves to ethical sourcing standards.  You may be thinking, “Wait a minute!  I have never seen a fair trade logo on a bag of Starbucks coffee!”  It’s true that in the US only one Starbucks blend has the fair trade certification (Fair Trade Italian).  What most people don’t know about are C.A.F.E. standards.  Starbucks has laid out their own standards called Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices.  The complete explanation can be found here and an example of their scoring here.

These practices ensure that workers are treated well and that there is economic transparency that proves workers were paid fairly for their product.  On top of following these standards Starbucks also purchases fair trade coffee and funds promotion of fair trade.  They have even set up Farmer Support Centers to provide financial and informational resources to help farmers increase their quality and yield while preserving the their environment.

Now I will be the first to admit that they aren’t 100% there yet.  Currently about 80% of their green coffee purchases are third party verified as meeting these standards (the goal is that all purchases will be verified by 2015).  Also, I have heard a lot of criticism that Starbucks only started these practices after several baristas and customers protested for more ethical purchasing.  In response to that argument, I just say that when the company started their main focus was to provide high quality product.  When customers educated them about how they could have a better impact on the world at the same time, they began changing their purchasing practices.  Who can fault them for that?  In fact, I think it’s a powerful message about how consumers can change the mindset of established corporations and educate business leaders about ethical practices.  

-Sarah Alyse

Conversations about Fair Trade and ethically sourced products are what this blog is all about! I look forward to sharing more in our Coffee 101 series and continuing the conversation. Thanks for starting us out so well Sarah!

Photo by Szymon Jarocki on Unsplash